Inclusive Storytelling: Q&A with Alex Creswick
Diverse and inclusive storytelling is cemented in the foundation of narrative change and social impact. Through the representation of characters and narratives that authentically express the diverse human experience, Upward Media Partners works to unveil universally relevant themes that inspire, uplift, and disrupt culture. With this effort, we can build meaningful connections with one another through stories.
When we connected with experienced producer and screenwriter Alex Creswick, we knew our stories and missions were aligned and we’re excited to work with Alex on new film projects in development.
In this Q&A we learn more about Alex's tenacity for the screenwriting craft and valuable insight into the importance of inclusive storytelling:
1. How has your background and experiences in the industry inspired and informed your work?
Alex: I have an MFA from the UCLA Producer’s Program, am a recovering VP of Development and Production for various financing production companies over the years, and just completed training as an Intimacy Coordinator through one of the SAG-accredited programs.
I was a Co-Producer on Mark Steven Johnson’s Finding Steve McQueen; Associate Producer for Don Cheadle’s Miles Ahead; and the development and production executive for films like Black Butterfly and Trading Paint, Paul Bettany’s directorial debut Shelter, starring Jennifer Connelly and Anthony Mackie. I produced two hit web series, School of Thrones and Muzzled the Musical, and worked on-line branded campaigns.
I’ve worn a lot of hats within the industry, while also keeping up a rigorous study and constant exploration of story and film – how it functions in our world, how it works, the bones of it, the philosophy behind the stories we tell and how we tell them. All of that experience gets mixed together and comprises the lens through which I approach screenwriting and development.
2. How has your work exemplified the progressive changes in scriptwriting over the past few years and how this progress impacts films being made and representations on screen?
Alex: Similar to the concept of hiring real doctors to consult on a medical show, Sensitivity Readers can offer insights in culture and world building that can help writers ensure characters from marginalized or unique backgrounds are represented authentically, fairly, and without falling into stereotype. Basically, I tell writers why the internet is going to get mad, and ways to avoid that. A lot of the job is making sure a writer’s intent is matching the actual impact of what they’ve written.
Representation matters, and making sure that representation is intentional and curated makes for a more unique story with more dynamic characters, better marketing auspices, and ends up being better for business overall.
3. How are you seeing major studios and content creators actively make decisions to move forward with inclusive content – and are these efforts limited?
Alex: There’s definitely an increased level of awareness that’s slowly grown over the last 15-20 years. Producers are generally more sensitive and aware to wooden female characters and all white casts, but there’s still a massive racial, gender, and ablest gap behind the camera. But we haven’t seen many truly industry-changing shifts yet. The biggest change has been the introduction and adoption of Intimacy Coordinators, a job that ensures scenes that feature nudity and/or sex are consensual and shot safely.
As far as the current marketplace is concerned, studios and producers have definitely taken notice of the box office draw, and it’s been proven time and again that socially conscious media gets more eyeballs and makes more money... Everything Everywhere All At Once stands out as a movie that showcases what creativity can accomplish when people are allowed to break free of stereotypical expectations.
4. How does an inclusive and open-minded approach to storytelling impact being successful as a writer in a meaningful way? Why is this approach as important as script formatting and grammar?
Alex: Writing exposes us, down to the foundations of our beliefs. We start with a blank page, then fill it—and once we’ve said something and released it into the world, we can’t take it back, or recontextualize, or edit for clarity. What’s said is said, and everything written down came from us.
A Sensitivity Reader or Diversity Editor is an additional resource and an ally for a writer. A lot of people imagine it’s all, “No. You can’t do this because it’s wrong and bad,” when it’s more like, “So I think you wanted to convey X through this scene? I see what you’re going for, but because of several things I will explain in depth and link-spam you articles to read, the context of this moment reads as G instead/as well, which is not in line with what you wanted to say, or a conversation you want to start. But if we just tweak this element, and do that instead, you have X with no G, and it feeds into your next scene nicely.” The goal is to match authorial intent with impact, and to give writers the tools to educate themselves and be precise in their storytelling.
Aside from whatever social impact we hope to have with our storytelling, the various -isms turn into character and story flatteners. (I would like to emphasize that these comments address unintentional/unconscious -isms, not things intentionally seeded into and commented on in the text of a work.) They root conflict in external factors separate from the story you’re telling, often forces characters to behave in inconsistent ways, and it treads worn, exhausted ground. Ultimately, the work ends up being a very close, intimate reading of a text that pushes us to be more creative, and invite everyone into the conversations we want to have with our art.
5. Anything else you’d like to share?
Alex: So much, I could teach a class. :)
Check out more about Alex's work as a Story Architect at www.alexcreswick.com.